A man who says he suffered a serious brain injury after being assaulted by an off-duty Minneapolis police officer is suing the cop, the bar where the attack happened and the city, alleging that all three tried to cover up the incident.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Lucas McDonough contends that the run-in nearly two years ago at a popular local cop hangout left him with a traumatic brain injury that deprived him of his sense of smell and taste. The suit also accused the department of failing to screen, train and supervise officer Clifton Toles, who is named as a co-defendant, along with the city of Minneapolis and Fossland-Olson Inc., which operates the 1029 Bar.
“The consequence is that certain MPD officers are ill-prepared, ill-equipped, and unfit to perform obvious and recurring duties of police officers, including the use of force,” the suit says. It doesn’t specify how much money in damages McDonough and his attorneys are seeking.
Police spokesperson John Elder this week confirmed that the department was “aware” of the suit but said he could not comment on pending litigation, instead referring questions to the City Attorney’s Office. Toles remains on active duty with the department’s Second Precinct in northeast Minneapolis, he said.
In a statement, City Attorney Susan Segal said that Toles was not working in his official capacity as a police officer, either on or off-duty, at the time of the incident.
“The City has no liability here and we will be defending the City against the allegations in the suit,” she said.
The underlying incident occurred on Dec. 23, 2017, when McDonough — in town visiting his parents from Los Angeles, where he was pursuing an acting career — met up with some friends at 1029. The popular watering hole in northeast Minneapolis is well-known as a hangout for off-duty officers, its walls adorned with police patches and other law enforcement memorabilia.
McDonough said he was talking to three women, one of whom had earlier exchanged phone numbers with Toles, when Toles walked up to them and joined their conversation. Toles, who was out of uniform and had apparently been drinking, almost immediately became hostile, accusing McDonough of “being disrespectful for reasons that are not clear,” the lawsuit said. Then, Toles announced himself as a Minneapolis police officer and, without provocation, used a chokehold to drag McDonough out of the bar with the help of a bouncer. Outside, Toles then allegedly released McDonough and punched him in the face, fracturing his cheekbone, knocking him unconscious and causing him to fall to the ground and injure his head.
Witnesses found McDonough lying on the ground, unconscious and bleeding from the head. He was later diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury as a result of the beating and has since lost his “functional” sense of smell and taste. McDonough’s lawyers say three independent witnesses corroborated his account that Toles was the aggressor.
Edward Magarian, one of the attorneys, said his client had been attacked “for no apparent reason,” with his injuries ruining any chance he had for a career in comedy and acting.
“He’s never going to be on ‘Saturday Night Live’ now, he’s never going to be in that industry, for something that he’s been trying to do for years and years and years,” said Magarian, a partner at Minneapolis law firm Dorsey & Whitney. According to the Internet Movie Database, McDonough’s acting credits include a pair of short films and an appearance on a short-lived TV series called “Dirtbags.”
Security footage from inside the bar captured Toles’ use of a chokehold, Magarian said, which he likened to the controversial tactic that led to the death of Eric Garner in New York City in 2014. The maneuver is banned under Minneapolis police policy.
The 62-page suit filed last week also accuses the police department of creating an environment that encouraged the officer to later lie to investigators about the incident.
The lawsuit contends that after the incident Toles and the bouncer, Mike Wells, gave shifting accounts, reportedly telling responding officers and paramedics that they didn’t know each other and that McDonough had thrown the first punch. Bar management participated in this “coverup” because of its cozy relationship with Toles and other cops who frequent the establishment, the suit says.
The suit alleges that the two men changed their stories in subsequent interviews with St. Paul police, to whom the case was referred to avoid a conflict of interest. The department referred the case to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, which declined to file charges against Toles. A spokesman for the office declined to comment.
A database search of records from the Office of Police Conduct Review, the city agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct, indicates that he is the subject of an open internal probe from 2017 — it’s not clear whether that investigation is related to the incident that sparked the lawsuit.
Lt. Bob Kroll, head of the union that represents the city’s rank-and-file officers, said he was convinced that the evidence will eventually clear Toles.
“I’m familiar with the incident and I think he will prevail in the lawsuit,” Kroll said of the officer, who he said was asked by bar employees to help remove an unruly patron. “I’m confident that this will either settle or they won’t get any money.”
The bar’s owner, Troy Olson, said that he had been advised by attorneys not to discuss specifics of the case, but called the allegations baseless.
“I feel that nothing was done wrong by the officer and the 1029 Bar,” he said Wednesday. “This whole thing is just blowing out of proportion, I mean, it’s blowing way out of proportion, it’s crazy.”
The suit echoes many of the allegations in a legal challenge against the department that was brought by the family of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. That lawsuit, which the city settled out of court for $20 million, alleged that the Australian woman’s shooting death by a former officer pointed to larger, systemic issues within the state’s largest police force, such as a failure to adequately screen new officers.
Council Member Linea Palmisano said that Police Chief Medaria Arradondo has made it clear that he expects officers to follow the department’s code of conduct even when they’re off the clock and out of uniform. She declined to comment on the pending lawsuit but said that officer conduct while working private security jobs might be covered in an upcoming city audit of off-duty police work.
The lawsuit argues that Toles was acting “under the color of law,” underscored by the fact that he announced himself as a police officer before the assault, and that he later retained a union-recommended attorney.
“No person should ever be assaulted by a police officer, especially with deadly force, for no apparent reason,” said Magarian.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter: @StribJany